how to stop drinking soda

Many of the choices we make in terms of the substances we ingest determine our health, of course, but also influence our wealth, happiness and emotions. A lot of the “ingestibles” in America are really bad for you. This is not solely an American problem but it seems to be exacerbated to a greater degree here.

Americans eat and drink a lot of bad things. Big culprits:

  • Fast food (it’s not just McDonald’s, either – supermarkets, schools and high-end restaurants are selling the same junk)
  • Highly processed foods
  • Artificial flavors and colors
  • Pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables
  • Hormone-laced milk and milk products
  • Tobacco products (one of the few things on this list that has no redeeming features whatsoever)
  • Alcohol (although in moderation, alcohol can actually be good for you)
  • Genetically modified foods (jury’s still out on this one – and while the jury’s out, I’ll call it unhealthy)
  • Drugs (prescription, over-the-counter and illegal)
  • And finally the subject of this article, soda, but I could probably think of 20 more examples.

I started drinking diet Coke in high school when it was first introduced to the country. It seemed to have a lot of advantages for a serious high school athlete in a sport that demanded quickness and strength without being muscle-bound.  Tennis also requires alertness. I drank more and more throughout my 20s and early 30s, drinking up to 8 cans per day at some points. I even kept it up throughout my time living in Russia, making frequent treks to the bakery across the street from my apartment which inexplicably sold diet Coke in addition to home-made black bread.

I quit drinking soda in 2005.  I still might have one on occasion, usually root beer or 7-Up, but my rough guess is that I won’t drink more than 5-10 sodas in a year now. Ironically at the same time I quit drinking “diet” soda I lost 100 pounds – not just because of that, of course, but I think it helped. I have given up diet drinks altogether, though – I touched a diet drink one time a couple of years ago, and it was horrific.

From Wikipedia’s article on diet Coke, a list of ingredients:

  • Carbonated Water
  • Caramel Color
  • Aspartame (known better by the brand name “Nutrasweet”)
  • Phosphoric Acid
  • Potassium Benzoate
  • Natural Flavors
  • Citric Acid
  • Caffeine

Why quit drinking sodas?

According to Food Chemical News June 1995, FDA Epidemiology Branch Chief Thomas Wilcox reported that aspartame complaints represented 75% of all reports of adverse reactions to substances in the [US] food supply from 1981 to 1995. Sodas cost a lot of money, they eat away at your insides and your teeth, they dehydrate you and the long-term health effects of aspartame (for diet drinks) are still being debated. I can’t really see any particular reason for drinking sodas other than continuing to get that sugar/caffeine/aspartame high, which isn’t really a high; it’s the lack of those substances that makes you feel bad, so you only bring yourself back to normal when you ingest them. So how do you escape your tastebuds’ cloying captor, the soda?

My tips for quitting:

11. Drink seltzericon or club soda mixed with fruit juice (but make sure it’s 100% natural juice, not sweetened or artificially flavored. You can’t go wrong with this – if you try it, it’s much better. You will be amazed the first time you try this – it’s much better than straight juice or straight seltzericon, and certainly better than overpowering soda. If you take a 12 ounce glass, fill it about 1/3rd full with juice and then the rest of the way with seltzericon, it’s very tasty. You can use any kind of juice, although personally I prefer apple or cranberry juice. I love having my Soda-Club Home Soda Maker (that is an affiliate link). I can make seltzericon right at home – no lugging it home from the store, no wasted plastic bottles, and fresh fizzy seltzericon any time I want it. I can’t recommend it enough.

10. Drink lots of water. I sometimes suspect that when I used to drink a lot of soda it had somewhat of a vicious circle effect. The sodium-laced soda would make me thirsty enough to grab for another soda. Water counteracts that desire and seems to tamp down on my appetite, too. Ideally everyone should drink approximately 64 ounces a day of water. It seems like a lot when you first start, but after you get used to it you won’t notice it.

9. Don’t drink mixed drinks with soda. This only applies if you’re a drinker, but it’s a big one. I used to drink Stoli Vanil mixed with vanilla diet Coke (while it still existed) as my drink of choice. Frankly, Stoli Vanil doesn’t mix well with juice, seltzericon, etc. What’s the solution? I switched to drinking wine instead of vodka. It has some (somewhat unproven but reasonable enough) health benefits and it doesn’t need to be mixed with soda. That was a conscious decision to get away from drinking hard liquor, and killed two bad habits with one shot.

8. Start drinking tea. Let’s face it, no one wants to drink water all day. I work in big corporate hives where I can’t exactly keep a fresh supply of seltzericon and juice, so I get a little bored with water. I find that having a nice pile of herbal and decaffeinated teas gives you something to drink that’s flavorful and healthy.

7. Drink lukewarm water. I think one reason people can’t drink a lot of water is that they drink ice-cold spring water bottles out of the fridge. Room temperature bottles taste terrible if you aren’t used to them, but you’ll notice they are easier to sip if they aren’t 33 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus, you can keep them sitting on your desk/in your car/wherever. Since you won’t expect chilled water, it will be easier to drink.

6. Don’t buy soda. This sounds obvious, but maybe it’s not. I stopped buying my poison of choice, diet Coke, and simply didn’t have it in the house. I had tried to “cut back” before, by buying a few two-liter bottles and telling myself “only one glass per evening”. That didn’t work for me. I removed the temptation entirely by not bringing it into my house.

5. Drink coffee. If you are a caffeine junkie, I won’t lie to you – withdrawal hurts. I think the addiction to aspartame hurts, too, and nothing really helps that. But you can ease your caffeine DTs with a cup or two of coffee in the morning. Just make sure you don’t waste your money buying it – brew some at home. Don’t skimp, either – buy something flavorful or you’re going to hate it. And learn to drink it black. You’ll save money, calories and your teeth.

4. Think of all the money you will save. Soda is fairly expensive. In all fairness, spring water is, too, but if you learn to drink from the office cooler at work and from the filtered water tap at home you can cut your expenses pretty significantly. I was working in one office where the diet Coke was free, which was fine, but when I moved into consulting I found I was dropping $1.25 four or five times per working day (let alone at home) to get a soda. That’s almost $1600 per year. I buy a box of tea bags for $3 (usually about 20 to a box) so even drinking five cups of tea per day, which I seldom do, I would only spend about $190 per year.

3. Tell your friends, family, co-workers and anyone else who cares to listen that you are eliminating soda from your life. A lot of people will laugh, but by and large I think most people realize that soda is bad for you and will be supportive. I wasn’t asking people not to drink soda in front of me, or anything, but the simple fact is that if you tell a lot of people who will be with you at mealtimes or other times you might drink a soda, you will be too embarrassed to drink one and look like a backslider in front of them. Public goal-setting is a great way to maintain a resolution.

2. Read. What? Read about aspartame. Read about Coke’s uses as a toilet bowl cleaner, or how it dissolves a steak (Google it). Do you really want that in your system?

1. Wait. If you stop drinking soda and give it a few weeks – and that’s it – you won’t want soda anymore. I never meant to completely quit drinking soda when I gave it up, but somehow I lost the desire for soda when I quit drinking it regularly. It just doesn’t seem appealing. Diet Coke is downright nauseating – it has a chemically, bitter taste. Regular soda, quite honestly, still tastes good. But the cloying sweetness is overpowering after you drink juice/ seltzericon or water or tea or black coffee for a while. I just don’t want soda. In the two years I have had a few sodas – on vacation I drank a root beer, and maybe once every six weeks I’ll find myself at a food court or some such place where my choices are tap water or soda. In those cases I’ll stick with 7-Up (supposedly all-natural) if they have it and Sprite if they don’t. But I haven’t had a Coke or a Pepsi in two years, with one exception. I was waiting overnight in a hospital on Little Buddy, who was briefly ill with a terrible virus a couple of years ago, and late at night I desperately needed caffeine to stay awake. The vending machine had nothing left but diet Pepsi. I choked half of it down, but even then I couldn’t drink it. Fortunately a very kind nurse (the wonderful-but-oddly-named Expie who seemed to me that night one of the most wonderful people on this planet) brewed a pot of coffee for me.

Soda is just one of those things you’ll never miss once you give it up.  Trust me.

(You might also enjoy my article “101 thoughts on how I lost 100 pounds“.)

32 comments

  • Soda is one of the most heavily marketed products in America. I have to admit we have a small soda problem — my wife continues to buy a case of Coke every few weeks to take to work, and I eat out with clients a LOT for my job. This leads to a lot of temptation in terms of what to order… but I try to order water most of the time.

    You mention people not drinking a lot of water when it is ice cold, and room temperature water in bottles doesn't taste as good? Are you talking about plastic, “disposable” bottles?

    I would recommend everyone get a Britta/Pur filtered jug, and buy a refillable water bottle. Helps the environment and your wallet. I have a 32 oz. bottle on my desk that I am already 8 ounces into for the morning. Cheers!

    • @nodebtplan: I actually think it helps to (a) use a non-disposable water bottle – I have a non-BPA plastic one, and (b) drink it lukewarm. I just think if you're used to ice cold, drinking lukewarm is unpleasant, so it's better to accustom yourself to lukewarm so you can drink it regardless. I actually prefer lukewarm, now…

    • You make a good point about drinking the water lukewarm. Training yourself to drink water at anytime. I would still encourage folks to drink ice water whenever possible. If you were to change nothing about your diet but drank at least 30 oz of ice water daily, you would lose 3 lbs a year. This is because your body cannot digest the water until it heats it to your bodies temperature. You will burn calories to heat that water. Now, it's only 3 lbs a year but drinking water usually starts other healthy movements in your life.

  • My relationship with soda is very bipolar–I'll go a year without taking a sip, and then down three 12-packs in the course of a week or two. One thing I have noticed very, very clearly (and I know it's high fructose corn syrup, because I don't get the same reaction in Europe where real sugar is used) is a very strong aftertaste that lasts for hours and tongue swelling. Gross… 🙂

    In college, I could drink 8 or 9 20-oz Cokes in one evening. I would turn around and the trash was full of empties. One day, I just decided to quit, and as I'm sure many people can relate–I had an interesting 2 weeks of headaches, fatigue, and lack of focus.

    I guess something my father-in-law told me sums things up pretty well. When he met a gentlemen who ran a soda factory one time, he noticed that he never drank soda. When he asked why, the director of the factory said “I make the stuff, but I'll never drink it.”

  • Soda does NOT dehydrate you. In fact, studies have shown that it hydrates you *nearly* as well as straight water. The sodium and caffeine is not in high enough quantities to overpower the volume of water you consume (after all, soda is mostly water and sugar). Not that there aren't numerous other reasons to stop drinking soda, just that particular one is a wives tale.

    • @Des: I have heard of those studies, but I'd still argue that water hydrates better than soda, even if it's marginally better. The sodium and caffeine can't HELP with hydration, so it stands to reason that they might hydrate, but still not as well as plain water.

    • The thing that confused me about the statement above(about sodium) is that most sodas say right on the can that they contain “0% sodium.” I always wondered why that was on the can.

      Unless there is some soda that does contain sodium that I haven’t seen, I don’t see how that could dehydrate you.

      Also, according to the Mayo Clinic, caffeine is not dehydrating at all – that idea was based on what doctors presumed was a diuretic – but after actual research – it’s not: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/caffeinated-drinks/AN01661

      Otherwise, a great article. I think you’ve clinched it for me – I was down to my last pepsi and trying to decide whether or not to get more tomorrow while I’m out. 🙂

  • LocalNourishment

    I confess. I used to drink about 2L a day. Not diet, wouldn't put that poison in my body, but the “real thing.” Can't even look at it now, it's just too sweet. Lots of people have recommended kombucha to me, but it's tart/sweet, kind of like vinegar with fruit juice added. Started making my own soda with water kefir grains. Takes minutes, it's sparkly and sweet, and all KINDS of good for me. The recipe I use is at: http://www.cheeseslave.com/2009/06/05/how-to-ma

  • i think one of the keys to giving up soda is to be willing. It is easy to know you should do something and even to want to do it but you have to be willing to be stern with your self and not give in to the temptations. I decided to cut soda out of my diet about a month ago in a house full of heavy soda drinkers. The key to my success has been self discipline and being willing to change my habits. In the past i have tried to cut out soda only because i knew i should or I wanted to loose wait bu i was still fighting my cravings every day. By being willing to let soda go the cravings faded quickly.

  • Tea will dissolve a steak too!

  • Rosa Rugosa

    First of all, I'm from New England, so it's TONIC, not soda! We used to drink plenty when we were kids, but my mom went on some diet when I was perhaps 10 -12 y.o., and she stopped buying it. So we stopped drinking it, and interestingly enough, I've never had a taste for it since. As an adult, I truly never touch the stuff, except an occasional ginger beer with dark rum (and it can't be ginger ale either). If you set a Coke and a glass of water in front of me, I would go for the water every time! So I think this is a good testimony to the power that parents have in terms of shaping the food/drink preferences of their children.

  • Fantastic article. Well written and very informative. Not just preachy common sense you see around. Good arguments. Thanks!

  • I can go weeks without soda… if it's not in my fridge. But if I buy a 2-liter of soda, I can down it in a day.

    • That's so me. I don't dring soda, we don't buy it, don't have it at home. But if it's available I start craving the taste and will have sprite at a restaurant. But very rarely. Now unsweetend iced tea is my choice.

  • A recent study of using yogurt with real sugar and yogurt with artificial sweetners found that animals fed the artificially sweetened yogurt ate more than the animals fed the yogurt with real sugar.

    I just thought that was interesting and it has stuck in my head for over a year.

    • @Chad: Fascinating, and disturbing. Seems obvious if you think about it – fewer calories, more empty chemical junk. Unpleasant to think about, isn't it?

  • Susan R., CA

    When I was in 5th grade, we put equally rusted pennies in Coke, Pepsi and 7-Up for an equal amount of days. (A week, maybe?) Coke dissolved its penny. Pepsi nearly dissolved its penny. And 7-Up gave its penny a nice cleaning. It left an impression on me. Later I learned that one could also use Diet Coke to clean car battery acid. That's not to say I won't have the occasional soda/tonic/pop (where I grew up, it's “pop”), BUT the idea of intentionally drinking something that'll dissolve metal and acid really makes it a rare occurrence. When I do, it's 7-Up, Coke from Mexican bottlers, or Pepsi. I liked Pepsi Throwback, but I don't think everyone is carrying that and I think it's for a limited time. My drink of choice is tea.

    • Good one – my high school biology teacher told me he had a science teacher place a human tooth in a bottle of coke and they measured how long it took to dissolve. I've also worked in refineries where phosphoric acid overspray from hydroblasting catalyst out of equipment was a problem, and I got to see first hand how the same ingredient they put in Coke to give it its tang destroys carbon steel.

  • I have been a soda drinker for 35 years. As a young boy I drank Coke and loved it. As an adult with weight issues I switched to Diet Pepsi, then Diet Dr. Pepper. However, I must admit that after losing 100lbs., I can not stand what a regular sugar soda makes me feel like. Recently, I discovered Coke Zero. Oh no, just when I thought I could kick the soda habit they create this product. The great taste of Coke with zero calories and NO aftertaste. I am addicted! I drink approximately 50 ounces a day. 🙁 I have tried to kick the soda habit for years and years with no success. I am going to try the real fruit juice with seltzer idea as I own a Soda Club unit. It is not the caffeine or aspartame that I am addicted to, it is the carbonation. The wonderful, awesome feeling of the “burn” as it goes down. Hope the juice seltzer works, cause Lord knows I could definitely use less aspartame.

  • funnyaboutmoney

    Soda is laced with caffeine, which makes it mildly addictive. For some people (moi, for example), sugar has a quasi-addictive quality, too — once you start with it, you keep wanting more, at about the same time of day. Dunno if fake sweeteners have that effect, because I've never been able to bring myself to ingest that stuff.

    Juice and bubbly water make a good substitute. If you have a few minutes, try making what the Mexicans call a fresca: take some fruit (frozen will work–cherries or strawberries are very good; but ripe, not-frozen watermelon and cantaloupe also are extremely delicious) and toss it in the blender. Add a small amount of water or juice (any fruit juice will do). Puree it into a kind of syrup.

    Pour this “syrup” into a glass full of ice, top with cold water, and stir. Incredible! And so much better for you than sugar water doped with artificial ingredients.

  • I went through a similar experience, starting, stopping, now having no taste for it and not even being able to finish 1/2 a can if I try. My motivator was money. It's free to get a drink if it's water, but $2.75 or more if its soda. I quit in college, when all my foods were dining hall purchases and I got tired of spending money on over priced drinks.

    It's amazing how many functions you go to where soda is the only option though.

    Also – I remember growing up, I LOVED coke, while my cousin hated all soda. She wouldn't touch the stuff and I couldn't understand it. Now she drinks it daily and I won't touch it. I always find that an interesting twist.

  • Did you just quit cold turkey or did you scale it back slowly?

    • @Markcus: I actually just quit cold turkey, although I wasn't planning to. I just finished up a 2-liter bottle of diet Coke one day and didn't buy any more the next. I was actually just planning to cut back, but after a few days of headaches (from withdrawal symptoms?) I decided to back off for a few weeks, which turned into (I think) about 2 years before I even sipped a soda again. So yeah, cold turkey.

    • It would have to be cold turkey–if there is a can in the house, I'd be rooting around in the middle of the night for it, just like the Pepsi junkie I am. I realize it's pathetic, but I am so addicted and cannot stop.

  • Congratulations on kicking the soda habit. I got hooked on adding flavored powder packets to my bottled water when I was on a deployment to the desert because we had to drink so much to stay hydrated. They were free and I usually went for the high-caffeine versions. Now I buy the powdered mixes with vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc. added for me and the kids. That's also an excellent recommendation to use the non-BPA reusable bottles. I also throw some diced ginger root in a thermos of hot water to make homemade ginger tea while I'm at work.

  • Alright you guys, I am a die hard Diet Coke fanatic. I have heard that Diet Coke is bad for you but to call it poison “really”.
    There are all sorts of things that are bad for you. Cigarette smoking, taking prescription meds, the list is endlesss. I used to drink a ton of water but I just can't have that as the ony source of hydration. At the end of the day, is it really so bad?

    • @Chelsea: I think it IS that bad. The long-term effect of significant aspartame intake isn't really known yet, but the constant intake of large amounts of sodium, an artificial sweetener and all of these chemicals can't be GOOD for you. And there are a million alternatives to diet soda – try iced green tea, or seltzer with a bit of fruit juice.

      All of those things you mention ARE bad. Nobody's perfect, but I'll tell you that anything that causes DTs when you quit taking it can't be good. When I quit diet Coke, I had a headache for days. Poison might be a strong word, but then again if you drink a lot – like I did – it might be contributing to killing you slowly. It's just better to avoid it, in my opinion.

  • It would have to be cold turkey–if there is a can in the house, I'd be rooting around in the middle of the night for it, just like the Pepsi junkie I am. I realize it's pathetic, but I am so addicted and cannot stop.

  • My steps (somewhat expensive but effective)
    1. Switch to natural soda like Hansen's for a few weeks.
    2. Later on, drink only half for lunch, half for dinner. I find that putting tin foil on top preserves the carbonation.
    3. Switch to something like Perrier, maybe some lightly-flavored Italian soda or similar drink.
    4. Alternate with plain sparkling water.
    5. If needed, drink other flavored drinks like tea or natural fruit juice.

    Now all I drink is plain room temperature water and occasionally natural fruit juice diluted with 25% water. Too sweet otherwise.

    Here's a good related article.
    http://greencropcircles.com/blog/2009/02/soda-i

  • hi steve
    i also drink soda 2 or 3 times a day and not able to leave my habit .i think for leave that habit we have to use any other substitute drink which is a healthy one like fruit juice as you mention above.
    thanks for suggestions

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